Using the Speed Gap Trap to Your Advantage

Last week I listed one of 7 barriers to good listening as “The Speed Gap Trap.” I called it that because of the gap between the speed of speech and the speed of thought. I called it a trap because it’s in that gap that most good listening gets stuck. Most often people don’t listen well because their minds wander while the other person is talking or because they use the gap to plan their reply.

Bonus Brain Time

There is a completely opposite way to look at the speed gap. It can be listening’s worsts enemy, or it can be listening’s greatest ally. What makes the difference? Intentionality. You can learn to use the gap to your listening advantage.

Before we go any further, I want to try an experiment with you. Think about a red balloon . . . What came to mind? Was it a big hot air balloon or a smaller helium filled birthday party balloon? Now, think about a green chair . . . Did you have a specific chair that came to mind or did you imagine one? It doesn’t matter. The point of the experiment is to show that you can choose what you think about. If you followed the instructions, you directed your mind to a red balloon and a green chair, and you did it in no time at all. You’re pretty amazing!

What you are experiencing now is something called meta-cognition. That’s a fancy word for thinking about your thinking. You have the ability to examine your thought processes while they’re occurring. Think about that. If you apply that ability while you are listening, you can turn “The Speed Gap Trap” into what I call “Bonus Brain Time.” Use the speed gap to think about your listening and direct your thinking to focus on the speaker.

Putting Bonus Brain Time to Work

Try an exercise. During your next conversation, practice being aware of how you are listening. First, pay attention to your own posture and attention. Are you giving eye contact? Are you listening to what is being said or are you planning what you will say next? One signal that you are planning what to say next instead of listening is the urge to interrupt. If you feel that, you are more than likely not listening as well as you could.

Next, pay attention to the person talking. What words are they using? What are their body language and facial expressions saying to you? I call this listening with your ears and listening with your eyes. How do the things they are saying come together to form a picture (listening with your brain)? How do you feel about what you’re hearing (listening with your gut)? Does it strike you as authentic? Is there any prejudice on your part that would lead you to believe one way or another?

After the conversation is over, make some notes. How did you do? What did you learn about the person who was talking? Even more, what did you learn about your listening? Yourself as a listener? Practice that same process over and over. It will be very useful as you develop your listening skills.

7 Barriers to Good Listening

At work we often talk about “Barriers.” They are those things, people, rules, policies, etc. that “prevent movement, or access, or progress.” In a coaching conversation, for example, you might ask, “have you experienced any barriers to meeting the expectation?” In other words, “is there anything outside or within your control that has prevented you from achieving the desired result?” In their book, The Oz Principle, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman write about overcoming barriers to achieve results as part of being accountable.

We have a 9 month old puppy named Zuzu. It appears that one of her primary goals in life is to overcome barriers. While we were training her to go outside, we placed various barriers at entrances to rooms with carpeting or a rug and to keep her in the family room with us which has a tile floor. Mind you, Zuzu is a 5 pound puppy. It has been incredibly entertaining to watch her find ways to get beyond those barriers. She uses her nose, her paws, her teeth, whatever she can, to move (thankfully never destroy ) any barrier.

We’ve been talking this month about Listening. There are many potential barriers to good listening. One of them is he belief that because we hear, we listen. Hearing is part of listening, but only part. Listening, as I’ve written about elsewhere, is a full contact sport.

There are several other barriers to good listening. Here are a few of them:

The Speed Gap Trap

This refers to the difference in the speed at which people speak and the speed at which we can process speech. Most of the time, people speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute. But, we can hear at a rate of 500 – 800 words per minute. What happens to all that extra time? That’s where the untrained listener’s mind wanders, they lose concentration and wind up being accused of not listening.

The Vapor Effect

Hearing is the most ephemeral of senses. Sounds are vibrations. Once the vibration is over, it’s gone. That’s why we take notes or make audio recordings of lectures in school. That’s also why its a good idea to take notes during certain conversations. Because, if we don’t make some concerted effort to retain the words that have been spoken, they won’t last any longer than the vibration that carried them.

The Me Focus

“Self-Centered” means to be preoccupied with oneself and one’s own affairs. Often when we are in conversation our focus is us. What do I want to gain from this discussion? What do I want to say next? How can I prove my point? Again, this speaks to how we use our Bonus Brain Time. If my focus in our conversation is me, what are the chances I’ll ever reach super-power listening skills?

Now, there is a difference between being self-centered and being self-aware, a huge difference. Self awareness is linked to “Meta-cognition” which is something we’ve talked more about in another post. Basically it means “Thinking about our thinking.” For our topic we could say it means, “Thinking about our listening as we’re doing it.” This self-awareness is a powerful tool for developing our listening skills. Self-Centeredness is the opposite.

Some other barriers to good listening include:

Prejudice – If we have preconceived ideas about the other person, their motives, position on a topic, or anything else, it will inhibit our ability to listen to them.

Stress – is like static in our brain and blocks out other people.

Anger – is similar to stress in its effect. When we’re angry, even if it’s not with the person who is speaking, the emotion blocks our ability to listen.

Distractions – seems pretty basic, but background noise, cell phones, TV, etc are kryptonite to super-power listening.

There are many other possible barriers to listening. How many can you think of? Understanding the barriers to good listening goes a long way in helping us get better at listening if we act like Zuzu and find a way past those barriers.

Listen With Your Mouth

Several years ago our family was out to dinner with some friends. At one point during the meal their daughter said, “Hey everybody, Look!” When we all looked, we saw that she had put her earbuds in her nose and right when she had all our attention, she opened her mouth and we could hear music coming out of her mouth like a speaker. It was hilarious. But that’s not what I mean by listening with your mouth.

Listening with your mouth is more like the question I left you with last week, “What’s your story?” You listen with your mouth when you use your mouth to encourage the other person to speak or to speak more.

How to H.E.A.R.

There is an acronym that can help to remember the key elements or steps to good listening. I included this in a post in January of last year. The acronym is HEAR. Two of the four elements, interestingly, involve our mouths.

H is for hush. We have two ears and one mouth. But, we often use them in reverse proportion. We often talk more than we listen. The first step in Hearing someone and certainly in listening is to close our mouths. We can’t listen when we’re talking. Hush also refers to quieting some of the internal barriers to listening like prejudice against a person or idea.

E is for Empathize. Put our autobiographical responses on hold until we’ve heard the other person’s story from their point of view. There is a difference between Sympathy – sharing the speaker’s feelings (we’re not trying to do this) and Empathy – understand the speaker’s feelings (we are trying to do this) (E can also be for “Evaluate” when listening must be critical)

A is for Ask. I wrote more about this in a later post. But, questions are the most useful communication tools we have. The first rule of good listening responses is when in doubt, ask. The presidents association of New York once estimated that good questions increase our comprehension and retention by about 15%.

R is for Reflect. I also devoted another post to this. But, good listening responses reflect the speaker’s meaning like a mirror. How? Repeat and rephrase what you hear. It’s the most basic kind of feedback. You’re simply feeding back the speakers meaning to check for understanding. It is often easier to react than to reflect.

Initiating the Story

When you want to know someone’s story you have to get them talking. How do you do that? You could start with, “What about this weather?” I grew up part of my young life in Michigan where an apt reply would by, “Yeah, but wait 15 minutes and it will change” followed by the laughter of shared experience. While that gets the person talking, it doesn’t get you into their story.
You may want to try some of these conversation [story] starters:

  • “What are the top three things on your bucket list?”
  • “If you could ask for a miracle, what would it be?”
  • “What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”
  • “Who has been the most influential person in your life?”
  • “What’s the most memorable lesson you learned from your parents?”

You can find 220 more possibilities here.

Going Deeper into the Story

Listening to someone tell their story is like viewing a picture. At one point in the conversation the picture may be like a sepia toned, old, faded snapshot. A little more information may add color and clarity to the picture. Still more information gives the picture 3 dimensions until at some point the picture begins to move. Even more information and you’ve stepped behind the eyes of your storyteller and are seeing the world through them. That’s Super Power Listening.

How do you get the additional information? With your mouth. Use questions to tease out the color, depth, movement, and emotion of the story. But make sure your questions are open ended. For example, instead of asking, “Were you angry?” which requires only a yes or no answer, ask “How did you feel?” That invites the speaker to volunteer more about their emotions.

Examples of other open ended questions include:

  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Why did you/they do that?”
  • “What’s next?”
  • “What’s the most important thing about that?”
  • “How did they feel about that?”

You see, it’s not only possible to listen with your mouth, if you want to get to SuperPower Listening, it’s necessary.

What’s Your Story?

I often find myself filled with wonder at the thought of how many stories there are in the world. Sometimes in traffic, other times driving through a neighborhood, I wonder what’s the story of the person in that car? Where are they going? Why? Are they happy about it? What’s their life been like to this point? Or the people who live in that house, what is the novel of their life?

John Holmes said, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” As of April 2020, according to the most recent United Nations estimates, there are 7.8 billion people living on the planet. That’s 7.8 billion other stories! What an overwhelming thought!

As I write this there are demonstrations/riots going on in not less than 30 cities across the country. Those events were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died as a result of his treatment by a white police officer in Minneapolis. During the television coverage, reporters repeatedly ask demonstrators, “Why are you here, what’s your message to America?” The message of the sincere protesters is similar to the one after Rodney King in L.A., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and others. These things keeps happening, I suggest, at least in part because no one is really listening.

Listening with Your Hands and Feet

When someone says, “I just don’t feel heard,” they usually don’t mean they are uncertain their voice has caused the other person’s eardrums to record sound. They usually mean the person hasn’t done anything in response to what they’ve said. People say, “No one ever listens” at work, for example, because they believe no one follows up, nothing ever gets done. Are they right?

While serving as the interim director of an international school in China it was brought to my attention that our local Chinese staff felt they were not being treated fairly in their compensation. I met with the staff members and decided to do some research. I met with local government agencies, a local attorney, business leaders of Chinese companies in the city and other Chinese educators to find out what the compensation packages were like for their employees. I learned that our packages were competitive. With the exception of one adjustment regarding housing allowance for married couples where both worked at the school, we made no changes to the compensation.

When I met with the staff to discuss my findings they accepted the outcome. What was interesting to me was not that they accepted the outcome but they accepted it with gratitude. They expressed appreciation that I had listened to them. Though it wasn’t the outcome they may have hoped for, they felt respected because I had listened and taken the time to research their concern. The reason they knew I had listened was because I had taken action and followed up with them. I call that listening with your hands and feet.

SuperPower Listening

“Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.” That’s how I describe what I call “Superpower Listening.” What would the world be like if we could all see it through the eyes of others?

It’s a similar idea to the Native American proverb:

“Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

When I Googled that proverb to be sure I had the wording right, I ran across an unexpected source for a similar idea. If you’re a big Elvis fan it may not be as unexpected to you. But I didn’t remember an Elvis song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Here’s a recording of that song with a brief intro by Elvis.

We can’t walk a mile in 7.8 billion pairs of shoes. But we can walk a mile in a few. In order to walk a mile in my shoes or see the world through my eyes, you need to know my story. SuperPower listening is engaging with someone well enough and long enough to learn their story. “Their story” is made up of episodes and one story is never the whole story. But, episodes build upon each other and reveal more and more of the person’s view of the world. It takes time and effort. It may also call upon you to take some action. Sadly, most people are not willing to put in the time and effort or are unwilling to be called upon for action to sincerely ask the question,

What’s your story?

Listen Linda!

“OK. Listen, listen, listen, Linda, just listen,” pleads then 3-year-old Mateo when debating with his mom over whether or not he should get a cupcake. If you haven’t seen this video, watch it here. Mom replies, “You’re not listening to me.” To which Mateo immediately retorts, “Because your not listening to me!” Wow! What a perfect representation of what’s wrong with so much communication. Ellen DeGeneres lunched the video to viral status when she had the Mom and son team on her show. The video is cute and Mateo is very articulate. But, I wonder if at least one reason it became so popular (no shade to Ellen) is that people everywhere (not just parents and kids) could relate to the issue it unveiled, No one is listening!

Last month I wrote about Organizational Communication. But a message sent is not communication unless it is received and understood. That requires listening. In fact, I would argue that listening is the most important element in effective communication (we have two ears, after all, and only one mouth). Well-known broadcaster, Celeste Headlee, in her famous TED Talk “How to Have a Good Conversation,” (over 5,000,000 views) says listening is the most important skill you can develop. She supports this claim with a quote from Buddha, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

Even though we spend a around a quarter of our time speaking and just over half our time listening (a 2:1 ratio), the following are true:

  • 87% of Married couples identify poor communication as their major problem … why? Because, “My Spouse Doesn’t Listen to me”
  • Surveys of workers rate “Good Listening” as a manager’s most important attribute, and, In a study of half the Fortune 500 companies, 2/3 of employees said “Good Listening” was a skill their managers most often lacked.
  • Management surveys have identified the most vital and neglected skill for college graduates entering the workforce as “the ability to listen and follow directions.”
  • One study estimated that 60% of corporate communication problems can be blamed on poor listening.

So, why don’t we listen?

Celeste Headlee suggests two reasons. First, she says, “we’d rather be talking.” When we’re talking, we’re in control. We don’t have to hear things we’re not interested in, we’re the center of attention, so we can bolster our own identity. The other reason Headlee offers is that we’re distracted. She mentions the fact that we can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at between 500 and 800 words per minute. Our minds fill in the extra words. I call this “Bonus Brain Time” in my Listening course.

Because of Bonus Brain Time, it takes a lot of work and discipline to listen. That’s another reason we’re not so good at it. We either have not learned how to discipline ourselves or we’re not willing to put in the work.

I’ll offer one final reason we don’t listen well. We’re selfish. Let me put it in the words of Stephen Covey, who said it much more eloquently.

“Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

I guess Celeste made the same point when she said, “We’d rather be talking.” We’re more interested in making our point than in understanding the point of another.

So, why should we listen?

For one reason, it’s the Loving thing to do. Love in any context is caring more about the other person’s well being than about your own. It’s what makes a great boss, a great lover, a great friend. If love is caring about the other person, what better way to show you care than to listen? Sometimes, that’s all the other person wants anyway.

Another reason to listen, it makes you more interesting. It’s true. If people, in general, like to talk about themselves, which we do, then we tend to find those who are more interested in us to be more interesting to us. Become that one-in-a-million listener and you’ll be the most interesting person many people know. Granted, it’s a little more selfish reason to listen, but it’s a reason.

I’ll offer one more reason to listen. You are far more likely to be amazed. Though we may like to talk about ourselves, the truth is, we know our story. Other people are often far more interesting to us. Celeste Headlee made this point in her video as well. She said she grew up believing everyone had some hidden amazing thing about them. She believes she is a better radio host because she keeps her mouth shut as much as possible, she keeps her mind open, and she is constantly prepared to be amazed. “And,” she said, “I’m never disappointed.”

This month we’re still talking about communication. But, more broadly than just organizational communication, and with a focus on the most critical part of communication, listening.

Make Lemonade

A few days ago I posted on facebook about an experience my wife Suzi and I had while taking an evening walk. Here’s the content of that post.

“I just got back from an evening walk with my lovely bride. We’ve never seen as many people out on the walking trail near our house as we did tonight. Families and neighbors out walking together, walking their dogs, riding bikes. People were smiling and greeting each other like actual neighbors! Could a silver lining of the COVID-19 cloud include a chance for families and neighbors to slow down and connect? We hope so. It seemed like it this evening. May that increase!!”

I received several comments on that post all saying that similar things were happening in their areas. Those are examples of people making lemonade. I watched a video recording of what John Maxwell presented live streamed on Sunday, March 22nd called “Leading Through a Crisis.” (I highly recommend following the link and watching all 4 of the presentations) In that presentation, John said that a crisis is a distraction. Distraction is the opposite of traction. Traction is when you gain ground and make progress forward. Crises pull us away and confuse our priorities.

He went on to say that nothing will cause you more anxiety than trying to control what you can’t control. When life throws lemons at you, make lemonade. Leaders help people regain traction during distraction.

I know the COVID-19 crisis is causing a lot of anxiety for people. Make some lemonade!

Listen to Christmas

This is the Monday before Christmas, 2019. What are you thinking about? If you’re like me, you’re thinking about a lot of things. One of the things on my mind is this post. What should I write about? I decided to see what I wrote about last year at this time, so I went back and discovered last year’s pre-Christmas post came out on Christmas eve. I didn’t write anything about the holiday. I wrote about “Barriers to Good Listening.” It was part of a series on “Listening: The Super-Power You Didn’t Know you Have.” You can find the posts listed on my “Posts By Category” page at engagerdynamics.com.

Listening seems like an appropriate topic for our thinking at this time of year. We “listen” to our family and friends, for example, when they tell us what they want for Christmas. Our son Justin’s Christmas list is a much anticipated piece of holiday literature each year. It’s a humorous proclamation of his “demands” with corresponding “consequences” should they not be met. If you knew Justin, you’d get how funny such an approach is.

My point is that we demonstrate how we’ve listened by the actions we take about those Christmas wishes. I call it Listening with Your Hands and Feet. What I’m thinking about now is, What does Christmas want from you? Strange question? Maybe. We hear a lot about “The Magic of Christmas” and “Christmas Miracles.” I believe the things we put into those categories are the result of someone’s answer to my question. This season asks something from us. As a person of faith, I think of it as “The Reason for the Season–Jesus” who is doing the asking. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, this season asks us to change our attitudes and actions.

As we wrap up the possibly frenetic activities leading into Wednesday, Christmas Day, let me challenge you to listen to the season. What does it want from you? I encourage you further to listen with your hands and feet.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

How to Successfully Navigate the Chaos of Change

This week I’m posting an article I ran across awhile ago. This article, by Steven M. Smith, effectively applies a family therapist’s change model to the business environment. I’ve reprinted it below for your convenience.

Improvement is always possible. This conviction is the heart of the transformation system developed by family therapist Virginia Satir. Her system helps people improve their lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves.

An element of the Satir System is a five-stage change model (see the picture) that describes the effects each stage has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. Using the principles embodied in this model, you can improve how you process change and how you help others process change.

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

The group is at a familiar place. The performance pattern is consistent. Stable relationships give members a sense of belonging and identity. Members know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Implicit and explicit rules underlie behavior. Members attach survival value to the rules, even if they are harmful. For instance, the chief of an engineering group has an explicit rule — all projects must be completed on schedule. When the flu halts the work of several engineers, the chief requires the group to compensate by working ten hours a day, seven days a week. After experiencing too many crises at both work and home, the engineers begin to bicker and the project falls apart.

For this group, the chief’s explicit rule about deadlines is their Late Status Quo. They don’t necessarily enjoy the amount of work they had to do, but they know and understand what is expected of them. The team feels the pressure from the chief’s rule about deadlines and compensates accordingly. The pressure works for small problems. With a major problem, like the flu, the group cannot cope with the chief’s expectations and a pattern of dysfunctional behavior starts.

Poor communication is a symptom of a dysfunctional group. Members use blaming, placating, and other incongruent communication styles to cope with feelings like anger and guilt. Stress may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal pain that create an unexplainable increase in absenteeism.

Caught in a web of dysfunctional concepts, the members whose opinions count the most are unaware of the imbalance between the group and its environment. New information and concepts from outside the group can open members up to the possibility of improvement.

Stage 2: Resistance

The group confronts a foreign element that requires a response. Often imported by a small minority seeking change, this element brings the members whose opinions count the most face to face with a crucial issue.
A foreign element threatens the stability of familiar power structures. Most members resist by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or blaming someone for causing the problem. These blocking tactics are accompanied by unconscious physical responses, such as shallow breathing and closed posture.

Resistance clogs awareness and conceals the desires highlighted by the foreign element. For example, a powerful minority within the marketing department of a tool manufacturer engages a consultant to do a market survey. She finds a disturbing trend: A growing number of clients believe that a competitor is producing superior quality products at a lower price. Middle and upper management vehemently deny the findings and dispute the validity of the survey methods. But after a series of frank discussions with key clients, upper management accepts the findings. They develop a vision for propelling the company into a position as the industry leader in product quality and support.

Members in this stage need help opening up, becoming aware, and overcoming the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

The group enters the unknown. Relationships shatter: Old expectations may no longer be valid; old reactions may cease to be effective; and old behaviors may not be possible.

The loss of belonging and identity triggers anxiousness and vulnerability. On occasion, these feelings may set off nervous disorders such as shaking, dizziness, tics, and rashes. Members may behave uncharacteristically as they revert to childhood survival rules. For instance, a manufacturing company cancels the development of a major new product, reduces the number of employees, and reorganizes. Many of the surviving employees lose their ability to concentrate for much of the day. Desperately seeking new relationships that offer hope, the employees search for different jobs. Both manufacturing yield and product quality takes a nosedive.

Managers of groups experiencing chaos should plan for group performance to plummet during this stage. Until the members accept the foreign element, members form only halfhearted relationships with each other. Chaos is the period of erratic performance that mirrors the search for a beneficial relationship to the foreign element.

All members in this stage need help focusing on their feelings, acknowledging their fear, and using their support systems. Management needs special help avoiding any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions. The chaos stage is vital to the transformation process.

Stage 4: Integration

The members discover a transforming idea that shows how the foreign element can benefit them. The group becomes excited. New relationships emerge that offer the opportunity for identity and belonging. With practice, performance improves rapidly.

For instance, an experienced accounting group must convert to a new computer system. The group resists the new system fearing it will turn them into novices. But the members eventually discover that skill with this widely used system increases their value in the marketplace. Believing that the change may lead to salary increases or better jobs, the members begin a vigorous conversion to the new system.

Awareness of new possibilities enables authorship of new rules that build functional reactions, expectations, and behaviors. Members may feel euphoric and invincible, as the transforming idea may be so powerful that it becomes a panacea.

Members in this stage need more support than might be first thought. They can become frustrated when things fail to work perfectly the first time. Although members feel good, they are also afraid that any transformation might mysteriously evaporate disconnecting them from their new relationships and plunging them back into chaos. The members need reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

If the change is well conceived and assimilated, the group and its environment are in better accord and performance stabilizes at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo.

A healthy group is calm and alert. Members are centered with more erect posture and deeper breathing. They feel free to observe and communicate what is really happening. A sense of accomplishment and possibility permeates the atmosphere.

In this stage, the members continue to need to feel safe so they can practice. Everyone, manager and members, needs to encourage each other to continue exploring the imbalances between the group and its environment so that there is less resistance to change.

I’ve observed groups, after many change cycles, become learning organizations?they learn how to cope with change. The members of these organizations are not threatened or anxious about the types of situations that they used to experience as foreign element. Instead, these situations excite and motivate them.

For example, the customer services group of a computer manufacturer learns to adapt their repair policies and techniques to any new product. Supporting a new computer system used to scare the group but not anymore. Management communicates and reinforces the vision of seamless new product support. Some members influence the design of support features for the new products. Other members plan and teach training courses. All members provide feedback to improve the process.

Postscript: Coping With Change

Virginia Satir’s Change Model describes the change patterns she saw during therapy with families. In my experience, the patterns she describes occur with any group of people when confronted by change.

I use this model to select how to help a group make a successful transformation from an Old Status Quo to a New Status Quo. Table 1 summarizes my suggestions on how to help during each stage of the change model:

Stage Description How to Help
1 Late Status Quo Encourage people to seek improvement information and concepts from outside the group.
2 Resistance Help people to open up, become aware, and overcome the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

 

3 Chaos Help build a safe environment that enables people to focus on their feelings, acknowledge their fear, and use their support systems. Help management avoid any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions.
4 Integration Offer reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.
5 New Status Quo Help people feel safe so they can practice.
Table 1. Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.
The actions in Table 1 will help people cope. Actions that inhibit coping retards an organization’s ability to make core changes. These organization are resisting the fundamental foreign element of change. But organizations that create a safe environment where people are encouraged to cope increase their capacity for change and are much more able to respond effectively to whatever challenges are thrown their way.

 

Well Known?

Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” John C. Maxwell said, “You have to know yourself to grow yourself.” Self-knowledge or self-awareness is essential to healthy relationships on the personal level and at work. The question is, “How well do we know ourselves?” the “Johari Window” is one tool that can help us consider an answer to that question. This tool was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (Jo-Hari, get it?) in 1955. The Window into our relationships with ourselves and others has four panes.

The Arena

This is what everyone knows about us. “Everyone knows Jane is a free spirit.” “Everyone knows John is analytical and reserved.” It’s our public self, we are very aware of it and others can easily see it. It’s how we present ourselves in public both automatically and intentionally. By automatic I mean our habits of interaction with others. By intentional I mean what we make a concerted effort to be sure people see about us. The Arena is not the whole story.

The Facade (Mask)

This is the “us” no one else knows about, the hidden us. It sounds ominous and almost sinister, but that’s only true of those who are hiding evil or criminal thoughts and intentions. For most of us, we keep fears and dreams here. Ironically, we keep dreams here because of fear of ridicule for having such dreams.

We can have different masks at work or at home. We may behave differently in those arenas. In that case the mask at work may simply be that our personal interests are none of anyone else’s business, but our family knows all about them. So, masks are not necessarily bad, they are just part of how we control the arena. This is like when someone at work discovers on social media that Bill plays in a band and says, “I had no idea he was a musician.”

The Blind Spot

This is the opposite of the Mask. It’s what everyone else knows about us and usually wishes we knew. Obviously, there is no self-awareness in this pane of the window. Here is where we have the greatest opportunity to grow.

A few years ago my wife started taking a medication. One evening a couple weeks after taking it, she was re-reading the documentation and asked, “Have I been aggressive lately?” The entire family answered in unison, “YES!” It was a side effect of the medication but she hadn’t been aware of it. When she asked and learned the answer, that knowledge moved from the Blind Spot pane to the Arena and she was able to manage that side effect very well.

The Unknown

This is the adventure of self-awareness. When my wife and I first began to date, almost everything was in this pane of the window. The excitement and fun of the last decades together has been discovering things about ourselves and each other.

The same can be true for other personal and work relationships. Making the unknown known is the adventure of the journey.

Practical Steps

Looking through the Johari Window is a step toward self-awareness and growth. The exercise of thinking about things in different ways expands our thinking and provides growth.

There are other practical tools that can help as well. One is the DISC Model personality test. I’m a certified trainer in the DISC Model and would be happy to help you and your organization work through the assessment. It will help you gain a clearer understanding of your personal patterns and how they effect your communication and interaction within your work environment and/or family.

There is a small fee for this service. Please feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com.

A Mile Wide

We used to live in the great state of Nebraska. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people. We loved our years there. The Platte River runs through Nebraska. Altogether, including tributaries, the river runs over 1,000 miles. We had the chance to visit a riverside cabin with some friends on one occasion and we went “boating” on the river. I put quotes around the word boating because you can’t boat on the Platte in the conventional way. It’s too shallow. We skimmed the surface of the river on an air boat. It was so fun, fast with quick turns, a great time. The Platte river reminds me of the saying, “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

Although the Platte is beautiful and we had a great time, the saying “A mile wide and an inch deep” is derogatory when talking about people. It means the person may know a little about a lot of things but they don’t know much about any one thing. Or it means their knowledge or intelligence is superficial, shallow.

Another saying about water that’s used of people is “Still water runs deep.” That sounds like something you’d rather have someone say about you, until you look up what that saying originally meant. “Quiet enemies are more dangerous than shallower, more visibly turbulent enemies, so beware.” It’s come to mean something more positive like “a person who seems quiet or shy may surprise you by knowing a lot or having strong feelings.” This whole water/people saying thing has me thinking about the relationship between being still or quiet and being deep.

There is also the saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” So, quietness alone is not the indicator of depth.

Shallow or Deep

A deep person is someone respected as having profound insight, knowledge, and wisdom while someone with superficial understanding who is gullible is considered shallow. If Gallup conducted a poll, I wonder how many people would say they wanted to be known as shallow. Among leaders, especially, I’m sure they would prefer to be known as deep.

The question is, can someone become deeper? The answer is yes. No one is born deep. Anyone who is respected for their insight and knowledge was once a kid in elementary school learning to read and write just like the rest of us. They grew deep over time. How? Here are three things we can do to grow deeper.

Ask Good Questions

Sir Francis Bacon said, “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” Looking at it from another angle, Charles P. Steinmetz once wrote, “No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.” Good Questions are usually:

  • Purposeful – you ask based on what you want to learn about the person or the subject, not random or trivial
  • Open – they invite your conversation partner to talk rather that answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Focused – they ask only one thing at a time
  • Followed up – they begin in more general terms then become more specific to increase understanding

Here’s a post and a couple websites to explore good questions.

Listen

It doesn’t do any good to ask good questions if you don’t listen to the answers. Right? It is sometimes amazing how many people don’t get that.

It is said that LBJ had a plaque on his wall that read, “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin'” Putting the point a little more eloquently, the Dali Lama said, “When you talk you’re only repeating what you already know. But, if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Knowledge, wisdom, and insight come from learning. Learning happens when you listen. Feel free to check out a few previous posts on listening. Scroll down on that page to the category “Listening.”

Reflect

Asking good questions and listening are only two of the essential steps to growing deeper. We should take the time to reflect on what we’ve heard/learned. Earlier I mentioned the still water and wondered about a connection between quietness and depth. Here it is. We should take time to be quiet and let things marinate in our minds.

One of the greatest leaders of all time, Jesus, apparently made a habit of getting alone. In John’s gospel he writes, “Jesus, … withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” What would we do if we followed that example? I’m sure Jesus prayed. That might not be a bad idea. He probably also reflected on the interactions of the day. We could take time to think about what we’ve learned, perhaps connecting the dots to other knowledge.

An important element of reflection is quietness. Sometimes just listening to the quiet allows the “back burner” of your mind to make connections and suggest insights or understanding to your conscious mind. These flashes of insight, as they’re sometimes called, can be very exciting and are the stuff of being deep.

With water, the depth causes the quietness. With people it’s the other way around. Quietness contributes to depth. It’s difficult to be quiet and still in our culture with all the electronic devices and social media. But it’s worth it. Try to schedule some daily time to ask questions, listen, and reflect in quietness. You’ll feel yourself go deeper.